The SyFy Channel has been making original films for quite a few years. Unfortunately, they’ve mostly been known for their quite bad computer-generated f/x and rather silly plots and stories. It says quite a lot to me that I’m such a huge horror/science fiction fan but have never found one of these original movies to be even remotely good. Instead, I’ve found myself wincing with each new ridiculous script and every unimaginable lame creature the series has presented. The Maneater Series has been as guilty as any of the themed series in their efforts.
It’s the old West, 1898. Sam (Marsters) is about to be hanged for robbing a train where some folks got killed. We later find out their deaths were an accident. So Sam isn’t a stone-cold killer, but is going to hang nonetheless. Just as the sheriff is about to spring the trap and drop Sam on into infinity, the town is attacked by a large creature that looks like a giant silver ball with exoskeleton appendages and a tail that shoots radioactive projectiles. Talk about your tail gunner. The creature kills a lot of the folks gathered to watch the hangin’, and the mayhem ends up freeing Sam. Instead of running, Sam remains to help fight off the creature and save as many folks as he can, including the sheriff who was about to stretch his neck. Before long a group of survivors is fighting off what turns out to be hundreds of creatures being dropped from a spaceship. The group includes Rose (Van Heteren), a bounty hunter who still wants her two thousand dollar reward for bringing in Sam. There’s Abigail (Sampson) who happens to be Sam’s old flame. He didn’t know this was where she lived these days. Finally, there’s Dr. Jules Arning (Knapp) who has been extracting uranium ore, which is what has been attracting the creatures. Together they decide to use the doc’s uranium stash to blow up the creatures and their huge ship.
Fortunately, High Plains Invaders might be the first of these films that I’ve actually liked. Now, let’s not get carried away. The computer-generated creatures are just as bad as any to grace this collection of terrible films. The plot is about as unoriginal as any I have seen. The dialog brings out those same winces that I was talking about earlier. How about lines like: “Come on, you foul hellish creatures”, as a female bounty hunter looks to sling some lead into the monsters. The movie leaves no cliché unused. So how is it that I actually liked this movie? OK. Maybe “liked” is a bit of a strong word. What I should have said was I was mildly entertained by this one.
The credit for my slight praise has to be directed mostly at Buffy and Angel actor James Marster. The moody Spike from those shows puts in a very solid performance here as Sam, the condemned train robber. He plays this so counter to what you almost always get in these films, including from his own supporting cast here. He avoids the temptation to go for the over-the-top or stylized caricature in this movie. He ignores just how stupid the whole thing is and plays it straight the entire film. Most often, any name performer in these zero-budget affairs limits his effort by appearing in only a small portion of the movie or phoning in the bulk of his portrayal. Marsters doesn’t seem to know what kind of a movie he’s in here. He gives it everything he’s got and elevates just another crappy Saturday matinee monstrosity from SyFy into a movie that actually has its moments.
High Plains Invaders is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. There’s not a lot of color in this movie. It almost looks like the filmmakers were intending to soak it in sepia tone and draw out any real color. The silvery computer-generated creatures lack any kind of texture at all. The entire film lacks sharpness, contrast, or detail. There’s nothing visually about this film that’s going to be exciting your senses.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is as dull as the image. You can hear the dialog fine, but there is no atmosphere or ambient life to this presentation.
You still might not want to drop any serious coin on the DVD, but look for this title at your rental store or on the SyFy Channel’s reruns. It’s worth the 87 minutes. Then just forget about it. Fans of Marsters will be glad to see him fighting monsters once again. This time there “Ain’t no demons. Those are some big ugly bugs.”